Brookings City Council appointed Janell Howard city manager earlier this month, but not after a lengthy discussion with the public about the process of advertising for the position and Howard’s starting salary.
Howard has worked for the city as its finance and human resources director since 2009 and served in a similar position with Coos Bay for 10 years. She also served as an audit consultant and audit manager for six years.
“I have had Janell in mind as a possible successor since I hired her nine years ago,” retiring City Manager Gary Milliman said in a press release Thursday, noting that she has served as acting city manager when he was out of town. “Like anyone that would be hired, Janell will bring a different personality and set of skills, experience and strengths to the position. She is very dedicated to the community and to public service, and is a very capable manager.”
“It is exciting,” Howard said Thursday. “It is definitely going to be new and different, yet some of it’s going to be familiar. I’m fairly intimately involved in most aspects of the work Gary does; it’ll be a different role, but the same process. It is exciting. It’s kind of fun, and I’m ready for the new adventure.”
In her new position, starting July 1, Howard will also keep her financial duties at the city — which had some in the audience wondering how she’d do it all.
“The city manager and finance director are currently two full-time and very important management jobs for our city,” said resident Teresa Lawson. “I have serious questions about consolidating these positions into one.
“In no way am I questioning Janell Howard’s qualifications for city manager,” she added. “I do question how Brookings will be better off consolidating two important positions. If Brookings is to continue to be well-managed, it needs strong, fully-staffed management in place.”
A fair process?
Berman Matteson of Brookings, who said she has a similar financial background as Howard, questioned whether the process the city used to hire — while legal — was fair and ethical.
She said in her employment past, a position was advertised, resumes perused, interviews conducted and the top candidates identified before someone was selected.
“My question is, why isn’t there a process?”
“This has been well thought-out,” said Mayor Jake Pieper. “It has not been done in haste. I believe we have the best candidate sitting here.”
Milliman, who is slated to retire June 29, said the city placed advertisements on city manager listserves in California and Oregon shortly after he announced his retirement in April.
“Many cities are struggling with this (hiring managers) in the past several months,” Milliman said. “Crescent City was on its third round of interviews. I interviewed two candidates; both had baggage and didn’t have the qualifications. The third indicated he’d take it on on a temporary basis, see how it goes — that’s not acceptable. After that experience, I felt we had a candidate within our mix.”
Councilor Brent Hodges said many candidates are close to retirement age and merely want to use the position to fill out a few months, or are looking to get some experience before moving on to a larger city.
“This (procedure) wasn’t just, ‘Hey, do you want to do this?’” Hodges said. “This didn’t happen overnight.”
The city does reserve the right to hire from within, Milliman noted. Crescent City recently hired its public works director as manager, and Florence did the same with its finance manager.
Consolidations aren’t unusual in small towns, either, he said.
“Eleven years ago, there were five department heads that were consolidated into three positions,” he said. “Today, there are three, with two filled. There is no ‘silo’; employees wear multiple hats based on their experience and expertise. For instance, I cannot be a finance director, but I can be a public works director.”
“My goal is to keep the city in good financial health,” Howard said. “That’s critical to accomplish new goals that come along.”
Councilor Dennis Triglia had similar questions, including how staff arrived at the $134,874 salary.
Ron Hedenskog, former mayor and newly appointed councilor, said in 2007, the city conducted a study of comparable city manager salaries before hiring Milliman. And Milliman, in recent years, has taken one-time bonuses and had the city pay for seminars and classes in lieu of a salary increase that would have added to retirement expenses for the city.
Howard’s salary, while higher than Milliman’s is “in the ballpark,” staff concluded, especially considering the skills she brings, the difficulty in finding a qualified applicant and that she plans to continue her finance duties for the city.
“We have no requirements for a process when it comes to hiring a city manager,” Hedenskog said. “We have an exclusive contract with a city manager and we make the rules.”
Milliman started at $90,000, which was the same salary as the city manager in Hood River at the time. That position is currently being advertised for $125,000 to $145,000 — and the city is paying $29,000 for a headhunting firm to find that person.
Milliman currently makes about $111,500, he said, although he will remain on the payroll for several weeks and taking accrued vacation at a pay rate of $115,000, which is what he might have earned had he stayed with the city. Howard’s salary of $134,000 is higher because she will remain as the finance director for the city. That wage is also estimated to save the city $50,000 a year.
Councilor Bill Hamilton said he preferred hiring from within, particularly in this case, because Howard virtually grew up in Brookings, having graduated from Brookings-Harbor High School.
“We have someone who’s been here, grew up here,” he said, “rather than someone who comes from Minnesota or Wyoming or whatever.”
Pieper also liked that Howard has no plans to leave the area.
“Knowing she’ll still be here is a really big deal,” he said. “It’s nice to know (she isn’t) going anywhere, 10 to 15 years down the road. “We know Janell. She knows the community. There will be no need for a lengthy familiarization period, no need to spend $20,000 to $30,000 on a professional headhunter.”
Among Howard’s first challenges will be to address the management needs of the Public Works and Public Safety departments.
Public Works Director Paul Stevens resigned last December, and the city contracted out the water and wastewater treatment departments to CH2M, a Lebanon-based company, in March. Milliman took over as the public works manager and assigned some duties to other staff members.
Public Safety Director Chris Wallace has announced plans to retire in July.
“Staffing is always a challenge in small, rural communities,” Howard said.
A Brookings-Harbor High School valedictorian and student body president, Howard graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in accounting. She is a certified public accountant and holds an Oregon Municipal Auditor license.
She has been active in professional associations, including the Oregon Municipal Finance Officers Association, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Government Finance Officers Association.
Howard is a Brookings native and a mother of four.
“We’ve been talking about it a lot, talking through the process,” Janell said. “So I’m like, OK. I’m ready to go.”